Can Poland’s answer to Topshop make it on Oxford Street? | Business

It’s that time of year when thousands of fashion buyers, press and “digital influencers” decamp to London to take in the catwalk shows that will shape what we wear come spring.

On Wednesday, the Polish brand Reserved put on a show of its own, hiring Kate Moss to draw the fashion crowd to its debut store on London’s Oxford Street, where 120 million shoppers pass by each year.

Billed as Poland’s answer to Topshop, the retailer is ploughing an initial £50m into breaking the UK market, paying a high price for the cavernous former BHS department store it believes will, literally, provide it with a shop window to the world.

“London is a bridge to a new world of very competitive fashion for us,” says Marek Piechocki, who co-founded the fashion brand in the days after communist rule ended in Poland in 1989. “It is a mirror for the whole world and will prove whether we can stand strong alongside our biggest competitors.”

Kate Moss’s clothing range for Reserved

Kate Moss’s clothing range for Reserved, the Polish high street store opening in London. Photograph: DALiM

But gaining a foothold in the UK high street is not without risk. High shop rents and intense competition make the big prize of the £36bn that Britons spend each year on clothing elusive. After trumpeting their arrival three years ago the US chain American Eagle threw in the towel this summer. Gap-owned Banana Republic quit the UK last year. Another US brand Forever 21 has also been closing stores after setting up shop in 2010.

The big successes of recent years have been online specialists, such as Boohoo and Asos, which are going from strength to strength.

“I know, I know,” sighs Piechocki, reacting to the list of failures. “But when you look at these American companies they are offering a classic look with a college style that is more or less repeating forever. The European customer is completely different. I believe we are one of the European leaders in fashion forward clothing.”

Reserved has signed a 10-year lease worth £42m to secure its prized spot on London’s most important shopping street. If the retailer is Poland’s Topshop, then Piechocki must be its de facto Philip Green, albeit a tall, slim, uncontroversial version with a degree in civil engineering from the Gdańsk University of Technology.

Shoppers pass the Reserved store on Oxford Street.

Shoppers pass the Reserved store on Oxford Street. Photograph: Matthew Chattle/Barcroft Images

The 56 year-old started LPP with another entrepreneur Jerzy Lubianiec when he was in his late twenties. The businessmen initially ran an import business, selling clothes to the hypermarket chains that had begun to colonise Poland’s virgin grocery market.

“During communist times we were having coupons for everything,” Piechocki explains. “There was nothing in the shops. There was big demand for everything, particularly garments.

“In 1989 when we got a container load of 20,000 shirts, customers would be queuing up and paying cash,” he says. “Then we were having a whole table of cash and the next day we could go and buy more.”

Kate Moss’s clothing range for Reserved.

Kate Moss’s clothing range for Reserved. Photograph: DALiM

Around half of parent company LPP’s 6bn zloty (£1.3bn) annual sales hail from Reserved stores with the rest rung up by its four other brands: Mohito, House, Cropp and Sinsay. Reserved’s pitch is to 20- to 40-year-old British shoppers with “accessible and affordable on-trend pieces” such as the £40 faux leather jackets and £20 skinny jeans among its autumn ranges.

Piechocki describes its women’s fashion – its also offers men’s and childrenswear – as “more feminine” than the likes of H&M with an “eastern European twist” on current trends. Its in-house designers use graphics inspired by Poland’s famous heritage in poster art to give the brand a point of difference.

Kate Moss, the new face of Reserved

Kate Moss, the new face of Reserved. You may have seen an advert somewhere. Photograph: Ian West/PA

Against all odds …

It is easy to forget that international retailers such as Sweden’s H&M and Spanish export Zara, which are now a ubiquitous presence on the British high street, also got lost in translation when they opened their first stores.

“The Zara sizing was quite wrong – because we are much bigger than the Spanish or the French,” says Maureen Hinton, a retail analyst at consultancy GlobalData. “But because the company takes a lot of feedback from its store managers it was able to adapt.

“American Eagle and Forever 21 were not different enough to what is already here. Zara and H&M are much stronger brands … there’s a lot of competition and you’ve got to stand out from the crowd.”

After touring the Reserved store, another GlobalData analyst reported back that it was a “bit hit and miss” in style terms, with strong casualwear and workwear ranges undermined by what she viewed as the damning presence of “snoods and waterfall cardigans”.

Kate Moss arrives at the Reserved store opening on Oxford Street, London.

Kate Moss arrives at the Reserved store opening on Oxford Street, London. Photograph: Ian West/PA

H&M opened its first store in 1976 and now has 280 stores including new brands Arket and Weekday, which opened their first stores in London last month. Inditex-owned Zara now has 110 stores including sister brands Massimo Dutti and Pull & Bear.

“Zara doesn’t advertise so when the store opened on Regent Street nobody knew the brand and it struggled to recruit staff,” explains one fashion insider. “Shoppers didn’t understand what it was offering because the stores looked upmarket, which frightened people off. When the next stores opened in Bluewater and Reading the sales figures were shocking.

“I think Reserved will succeed or fail based on quality and price points of product,” the experienced fashion executive added. “I have experience of fashion retailing in eastern Europe and to my mind it’s a very specific taste that doesn’t necessarily work in the UK.”

Reserved has created the 150-piece Redesign specifically tailored to UK shoppers and the Oxford Street store will be receiving new drops of clothing twice a week. Bestsellers can be repeated in its Polish factories within three weeks.

Today LPP is one of Poland’s biggest listed companies with 1,700 shops covering swaths of eastern Europe. Once the retailer has honed its UK formula, Piechocki says more stores will follow – he is still a firm believer in the power of bricks and mortar, even in a digital age.

Despite the odds seemingly stacked against Reserved, Piechocki is quietly determined to conquer the British high street. “We have never withdrawn from any market in 25 years,” he says, before citing the phrase “never, never, never give up”, borrowed from Churchill.

“This is such a crucial step for the company because if we can succeed in London there is no other city in the world where we cannot be successful.”

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‘It’s fashion without a capital F’ – Swedish stores step up high street invasion | Fashion

It gave us woolly jumpers, cosy socks and bobble hats – now Scandinavia is tightening its grip on the high street with what some in the fashion world are describing as a new Swedish invasion.

Last week it was announced that David Hagglund will be the new creative director of Topshop and Topman. Hagglund is Swedish, and comes with a CV that includes time at Swedish high street powerhouse H&M and a Stockholm-based advertising agency.

The appointment reflects a wider trend on the high street. A walk down London’s Regent Street quickly shows exactly how Swedish our shopping streets have become – and how they are dominated by the H&M Group. A large branch of H&M stands at Oxford Circus and if shoppers were to walk south stores owned by H&M group proliferate: there’s & Other Stories, the high street home of wearable quirk, and Cos, which has been the destination for affordable minimalism for 10 years. Monki is around the corner on Carnaby Street, selling slogan T-shirts and quirky prints to the Instagram generation.

Weekday opened last Friday with denim and understated streetwear aimed at millennials and this week shoppers will get another taste of Sweden with the opening of Arket on Regent Street. The new brand from H&M is grownup fashion to which Cos customers can graduate. The price points will be slightly higher than Cos – up to just over £100 according to industry website Business of Fashion – while the store will work like a market, with homewares and a cafe expected. Arket’s creative director Ulrika Bernhardtz says the brand aims to be about “timeless, crisp quality and warmth”. Another H&M-honed brand is expected next year and H&M Home standalone stores are planned.

Graeme Moran, the head of fashion and features at Drapers magazine, says there’s a commercial appeal to the clothes that these brands typically produce. “At the end of the day, I think it’s popular because most people want a nice simple navy jumper or a well-made white shirt,” he says. “It’s wearable fashion without the capital F.”

Weekday offers understated streetwear aimed at millenials.

Weekday offers understated streetwear aimed at millenials.

Sweden has long sold its look to other countries, says Moran, and that might be why Arket is launching in London before Sweden. “It’s harder to sell that [the Swedish aesthetic] back to the Swedish people. It appeals to us because it’s clean, pared back.”

This plays into the Swedish concept of lagom which loosely translates as “just enough”. The high fashion Stockholm-based brand Acne, which now shows at Paris fashion week, is a leader in this field. It could be credited with starting the millennial pink trend in a typically understated way – the bags into which staff slip your purchases are in that ubiquitous shade.

Adrian Clark, the style director of Shortlist, also points beyond fashion to show how all-pervasive the Swedish philosophy of design has become: “There’s a deep-rooted idea, in companies like Ikea, that design needs to be fit for purpose and modern.” Ikea, of course, is having a fashion moment of its own, with a homage to its 40p Frakta bag sold by buzzy catwalk label Balenciaga for £1,365.

The appointment of Hagglund could be Topshop realising that he might bring a point of view that is more sellable in different territories. “Topshop have always had that really British girl image so maybe this is about a more international handwriting,” says Moran. “It’s really well-timed anyway because Scandinavia is having a moment.”

Thought to be worth up to £12bn, Swedish rival H&M is now 70 years old, and its main shareholder and chairman is Sweden’s richest person, Stefan Persson, who has a fortune of £28bn. It began in 1947 with one store, Hennes – Swedish for “her” – in the central Swedish city of Västerås. It expanded in the 1970s, and the first store outside Scandinavia opened in London in 1976. It now has more than 3,000 stores across the world.

Clark sees the growth of a portfolio of stores from the group as a way for it to keep its relevance across demographics. “The H&M Group is almost unique in the way they think, ‘which niche have we not covered in regards to consumer profile?’” he says. “They are very clever at identifying not just the trends in fashion but how we’re living our lives and how we shop.”

Some see the launch of Arket as a way for H&M to diversify. The H&M Group has had disappointing financial results. While sales were up in the first quarter of this year, profits fell by 3.5%.

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